THE FRENCH ARMY OF AFRICA 1831-1914
From the book by Philip Cranz published by Uniformology in 2006
Of all the French military organizations in history the most romantic is the Army of Africa. French historian Jules Richard, who provided the text for Edouard Detaille’s L’Armée Francaise – Types Et Uniforms published in 1889, writes “From 1831-1852 the French Special Army of Africa was a breeding ground of valiant, active officers, and from 1852 to 1870, the reserve for the elite of the National Army. It was a kind of second Imperial Guard but more flexible and more available than the actual one.”
The Army of Africa was divided into six organizations. The infantry was comprised of the Zouaves, Algerian Tirailleurs, Foreign Legion, and the Light Infantry of Africa. The cavalry was made up of the Chasseurs d’Afrique and the Spahis.
Like the Mamelukes of Napoleon I’s army the Arab costume of the native troops of Algeria became very popular. The Zouaves served with distinction in the Crimean War and their valor and their exotic costumes inspired uniform designs around the world. Such was the influence on the United States that Zouave styled militia companies were formed in the North and the South before the United States Civil War. The Berber Zouaoua tribe from the mountains of Algeria was recruited to for the first two battalions of Zouaves in 1831. A third Battalion was raised in 1838. In 1840 when the Algerian Tirailleurs ( Tiralleurs Algerien) were formed the Zouaves were changed to become a purely French unit made up of French Algerians who served out their military conscription in the Zouaves. In addition to service in Algeria they were on campaign in the Crimean War, the Mexican Expedition, the Franco-Prussian War, and the First World War. Because they were a metropolitan regiment in France, they are not covered in this series.